Luton South MP calls for more support for universities during coronavirus crisis

The MP for Luton South is calling for the Government to support universities during the coronavirus outbreak, stressing the "pivotal" importance of Luton's own institution.
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Rachel Hopkins, Member of Parliament for Luton South, sent a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson about the urgent need for a university sector support package to mitigate the financial damage caused by Covid-19.

In her letter she said: "As I am sure you are both aware, universities generate more than £95 billion for the UK economy and provide over 940,000 full-time equivalent jobs.

"There is a significant risk that universities’ numerous direct and indirect benefits will be hampered by the financial impact of Covid-19.

University of Bedfordshire's Luton campus (C) University of BedfordshireUniversity of Bedfordshire's Luton campus (C) University of Bedfordshire
University of Bedfordshire's Luton campus (C) University of Bedfordshire

"I am deeply concerned that many universities face bankruptcy or having to operate at a reduced capacity, which will lead to a loss of jobs and severely damage social mobility.

"Universities cannot be solely considered a business; instead they require a bespoke sectoral support package which recognises their wide-ranging importance to the UK.

"Ensuring the University of Bedfordshire can continue to succeed is of vital importance to my constituents in Luton South.

"The university provides valuable opportunities to disadvantaged and non-traditional students who may not be able to afford to leave home for higher education, or who are studying part-time whilst working.

"It is a key vehicle for raising aspirations and social mobility, particularly for under-represented groups, through its emphasis on widening participation, while simultaneously developing the local community’s quality of life and economic growth.

"I cannot stress enough the pivotal importance of the University of Bedfordshire, as an anchor institution in Luton, to rebuilding the local and regional economy after the pandemic.

"Without a university sector support package, it is highly likely that the loss of universities due to financial failure will lead to greater inequality.

"Universities UK stress that the impact will be widening economic disparities and regional skill gaps; a downgraded the capacity for research and innovation; additional barriers to disadvantaged students accessing higher education; a national skill shortage; damaged regional and local economic growth; and the UK’s position as a global research and education leader will be significantly damaged.

"The government should not take the importance of the university sector for granted.

"Universities UK have clearly outlined what is needed to stabilise the university sector, prevent financial failures and ensure universities can maximise their positive contribution to the UK post-epidemic.

"The proposed package of measures will reduce costs, increase efficiency and moderate certain behaviours to increase stability and sustainability.

"I urge the government to deliver a sectoral package that ensures no university goes bankrupt."

The University of Bedfordshire has welcomed the support from Rachel Hopkins.

A University of Bedfordshire spokesperson said: "The University of Bedfordshire’s financial position remains in good shape this academic year but we are heartened to receive such valued support from Rachel Hopkins MP during these uncertain times.

“Ms Hopkins has highlighted just how invaluable we are as a university for local employment and for generating revenue for the region’s economy.

"We are also responsible for supporting, developing and training thousands of nurses, healthcare workers, social workers and teachers for the region; those professions which we have all relied on so much during the current crisis.

“However university finances will be impacted next academic year by an expected drop in student numbers and we ask that Government recognises the contribution we make to our communities and takes steps to support our sector."